Past Client and SOI Marketing for Realtors
Referrals are your bread and butter – or they will be one day if not now. Put in an action plan to help your happy clients do the work for you promoting you and your brand. There is nothing more persuasive than social proof when it comes to earning the trust of a future client.
I’ve grouped repeat and referrals together. Not only will happy clients send their friends your way, but they’ll return themselves in a few years’ time.
How important is your sphere? Referrals, sphere of influence, and repeat customers are the #1 most common lead source for real estate agents, representing about 40% of all sides for both buyers and sellers.
That’s enough to sustain your entire business. No cold calling, no Zillow leads. Just working with the people you already know!
Pros and Cons of Past Client and SOI (PCSOI) Marketing
Past Client and Sphere of Influence, sometimes abbreviated PCSOI, is essential to every real estate business.
The “pros” are extremely lopsided. Marketing to your sphere really isn’t a choice; it’s a mandate. But there are some cons and you’ll want to pair it with other lead generation strategies.
- Big Chunk of the Market. Can alone sustain a top producer’s business, accounting for the majority of lead sources for agents
- Cheap Leads. As you already have these leads, your customer acquisition costs are almost $0. The only cost is whatever you elect to do to nurture your database, be that gifts, mailings, or client appreciation events.
- Higher Price Points. By definition, past clients will generally be buying or selling their first or second home. That often means they are in the move-up buyer price range or higher.
- List to Last. Past buyers are more likely to be on the listing side their second go around! Plus, as they are now natives in their neighborhood, they are more likely to recommend neighbors (i.e. listings) to you as well.
- High conversion. For every 10 “mets” in your database, you should expect at least 1 repeat customer or referral. That is a 10% conversion, which soundly beats most other prospecting methods. That allows you to invest more into each person rather than casting a wide net.
- Warm Leads. Better yet, repeat and referral customers are warm leads you already have a relationship with. No cold calling. No hard selling. Maybe even no objection handling!
- Undisruptable. No one can cut you off from your past clients. You have their email, phone, and relationship already. There are no middle men like Zillow, Facebook ads, or whatever else.
- Takes Time. It can take time in the industry to build a sphere and book of past business.
- Follow Up Skills Needed. Requires a very long sales funnel of staying top-of-mind and in touch with your sphere and past clients. You definitely need a “farmer” mentality over a “hunter” mentality.
- Difficult to Scale. Not impossible! But your PCSOI requires personalized touches, and there is only so much you can do personally as your database grows. Ultimately, successful agents usually scale by building a team. Which is achievable and rewarding, but difficult to do well!
In addition to prospecting to your sphere, you will want to complement it with at least 3 other lead generation strategies for real estate agents.
How to Earn Client Referrals and Repeat Business
Your Existing Sphere of Influence
Begin by creating your database of who you already know. You should be able to get 100 or more names, even as a newbie Realtor.
Start grouping them by category.
- A+ – Already Referees. People who have referred you in the past; ideally the past 12 months. These are proven referers. There is a high probability they are willing to refer you again.
- A – Amazing Clients. Your past real estate clients. They need to actually refer someone to be promoted to A+, but there is a good reason to think they would namedrop you if a friend were looking to buy or sell.
- B – Besties and Brothers. Or “friends and family”. They like you. But they’re not a past client and haven’t referred you in the past, but you are comfortable speaking with outside of a real estate context.
- C – Cool Acquaintances. You are aware of one another but don’t have a relationship. These might be leads in your database, vendors, or casual work and school acquaintances.
- D – Dead to You. Bad blood. You don’t like each other. A deal blew up. Your exes. Who knows. But you don’t want to speak to them again and the feeling is mutual. Don’t delete them, because you don’t want to accidentally add or market to them in the future.
Staying Top of Mind – The Marketing Plan
Now you have your database! You will, of course, add to it with more past clients and relationships as you develop them.
You want to focus the most energy on your best prospects. That means your C contacts will get heavily automated communications, like listing alerts and newsletters, while your A+ contacts will get those and more personalized touches like invitations, handwritten notes, and date nights!
Mail (1x / month)
Mail is more expensive, but a confident method of getting in front of your database.
- Housiversary. This is an obvious opportunity to mail your database. Celebrate the birthday of their homeownership.
- Holiday cards. Surprsingly few people do holiday cards still. So it is an inceasingly easy way to stand out.
- Just Listed / Sold postcards. Your sphere may not be looking for homes, but this is an easy and relevant way to remind them that you are still working hard and encourage referrals.
- Invitations. Invite them to your client events. Or even other public events you plan on attending. That is even cheaper!
- Tips and Advice. Relevant, seasonal tips at the right time can be much appreciated.
Email (1x / month)
You may want to send personalized emails to your B and A contacts. For your C database, automatic emails from your CRM or email marketing software will likely be sufficient.
- Newsletter. Keep it short and sweet, and bring value! Tips for homeowners, information about local events. Maybe even team up with some local businesses to offer discounts and coupons!
- Market update. Everyone wants to know what is going on in the market. You can use tools like Homebot to achieve this easily.
- Listing alert. Even for past clients, they may appreciate regular checkups on what has sold in their neighborhood. Those nosy neighbors!
Phone Call (2x / year)
There are plenty of excuses to call a past client throughout the year. My favorite is when tax appraisals come out. You can give your clients a call and review it with them, seeing whether it would be worthwhile to appeal their tax assessment
- Market update / Property Tax Appeals. This is a very natural reason to reach out to past clients and friends. Offer them an updated market valuation. Do it around property tax time (in May, in my area), and they can use that information to appeal their tax assessment if applicable.
Visit (1x / year)
You want to get an in-person contact with your A contacts at least once a year. There are lots of easy ways to make this happen naturally!
- Client appreciation events. Not just for clients, this is a great way to get lots of folks in your sphere while giving back to the community.
- “Date Nights“. Consider time blocking a period each week for a “date night” (it doesn’t have to be at night). You can then contact your A+ contacts and see who, if any, are up for hanging out or doing something. Grabbing lunch, bowling, shopping, whatever seems appropriate to that relationship.
- Pop By Gifts. These small, seasonal gifts are a great way to get face to face with past clients again. Alternatively, you can do a “reverse pop by gift”, where you invite your sphere to your office to pick up pies.
Social Media Retargeting (5-1-1 Daily)
- 5-1-1. This is a simple rule for engaging with your sphere. This is separate from your other social media strategies and posting schedules. Engage with your A contacts. It is intentionally light so you can knock it out quickly and move on to other priorities.
- 5 Comments. Comment on 5 posts from your sphere.
- 1 DM. Start a conversation with someone in your sphere.
- 1 Post. Post something yourself! Tag your sphere, if applicable!
- Facebook Retargeting. You can upload your database to your Facebook ad campaign and your ads will just appear in front of your database. This is a great way to keep top of mind awareness among people who already like and will engage with your brand.
The most important way to win evangelists among past clients is to provide them top-shelf service during your transaction.
You want to go above and beyond to deliver a great experience. At the closing, you can cap it off with a nice gift and follow up.
- Great closing gifts. A memorable, branded closing gift is a great way to set your new past client relationship off on the right foot. I made a list of rockstar closing gift ideas.
- Thank you cards. A simple thank you card can go a long way, not only for your past clients but to your vendor partners like lenders, title, and other agents.
- Solicit reviews before closing. Solicit reviews from your clients the day before closing
- Permission. Get permission to take and post pictures and video testimonials of your happy customers
- Consistent brand. Incorporate your brand colors, taglines, and fonts in your gifts and marketing whenever possible.
Asking for Referrals
There are many ways to organically ask for referrals from past clients.
- Solicit Reviews and Testimonials. The first way to leverage your positive relationship with clients is to get their social proof for your business through reviews and testimonials.
- Reward people for referrals. States usually have limits on what you can give someone for a referral. In Texas, it is a maximum value of $50. Use it! It’s the best spent $50 you could spend!
- Connect it with a good cause. Offer to connect referrals with donations to a cause. Maybe the referee’s choice. Or perhaps branding your business with “10% of referral commissions go to St Judes” or some other good cause. Lean into it!
Client Appreciation Events
This may sound intimidating. But for $2000 or less, these events can be manageable. Especially if you pair up with your lender or brokerage.
Here are a few event ideas:
- Reserve a movie theater
- Happy Hour event
- Hire Santa for Christmas
- Build gingerbread houses
- Christmas light show
- Spring cleaning
- Beach party
- Food truck
- Monday Night Football
- Ice Cream Social
- Pie Party
- Professional Photographer
- Coloring contest
- Golf course event
- Hot cocoa stand
- Couples night
Examples of Agents Effectively Marketing to Past Clients
Realistically, all top agents likely excel at past client and sphere marketing. You can look up any of the teams on the top rankings of Real Trends and likely get some good teams and agents to model after.
Stacey is a successful Maryland and Delaware agent with a team that is very effective marketing to their sphere. According to Zillow, her team has done 149 transactions in the past year.
She was on her brokerage’s video series talking about pop by gifts.
Scott Kato is a Long Beach broker and real estate coach at Coach Kato.
His business is focused on referrals and client events, working with just 350 in their SOI supporting 60+ deals a year
Rachel has a small team in Michigan that does over 100 deals a year on referrals and earned the NAR 30 under 30 award.
She’s leveraged her past client marketing into a team with multiple agents and assistants to keep up with the volume.
Resources and Training
I believe in spending as little money as possible. I don’t recommend purchasing coaching, training, or advertising until your business is already working.
There’s so much free stuff on working your sphere and past clients that there is no need to spend oodles to get the basics in place.
Lead with revenue!
YouTube Playlist for Building a Referral Business
Coaches and Trainers
Master Mind Agent
Mike Cerrone has the amazing podcast/YouTube channel Master Mind Agent with the most in-depth agent interviews I’ve seen in our industry.
A huge proportion of these top agent interviews focus on referral business, because that is the number one lead generation system for top agents!
His channel is a must-follow for everyone trying to up their referral marketing game.
You can get a lot of value for free. But he has the Master Mind Agent Academy with paid training. I have personally paid for access to his materials.
Books for Marketing to Past Clients and SOI
The pumpkin plan has 7 Steps, focused on trimming down your database and leveraging your best customers to sustain your business:
Superfans is from Internet marketer Pat Flynn, and is about winning not customers but fans, who will evangelize your business on your behalf.
The following are some podcast episodes featuring Realtors talking about their experience nurturing their database of friends, family, and past clients into evangelists for their business.
- Master Mind Agent. SC098: Denny Grimes. Radical Pricing Philosophy That Maximizes The Sales Price Of Your Listings. Magic Birthday Card That Gets Referrals. Surviving Radical Market Shifts. Selling 70 Homes As A Solo Agent Before Building A Team
- Real Estate Rockstars: 889: STOP Asking for Real Estate Referrals with Stacey Brown Randall
- Massive Agent Podcast: HOW CLIENT GIFTS CAN BACKFIRE W/ PHIL TREADWELL – EP 103
- Master Mind Agent Podcast: SC202: Desi Sowers. Solo Agent Gets 60 Referral Closings From Small List Of 300 People (1 in 5) By Former House Cleaner (And College Dropout).
- Real Estate Uncensored: Zillow Creep: How To Avoid Becoming a Zillow Employee w/Jim Remley
- Hyperfast Agent: Episode #168 Service that Builds Referrals with Randy Byrd
Tools and Software
There are some software companies and CRMs that support client outreach.
$99.99+/mo. Brivity is a customer relationship manager that puts the emphasis on the buyer and seller experience. It features customer-centered tools like a CMA, listing marketing, and even a client portal. It is the flagship product of the Ben Kinney empire of real estate technology tools, and a popular choice for some of the top teams in America.
$39.80/mo. Foreclosure.com aggregates distressed properties nationwide, including short sales and preforeclosures, rent-to-own. They offer a 7-day free trial
$19.99+/mo. HomeKeepr is a vendor referral system that keeps you top of mind with your past clients via a branded referral app. The app (or website widget) can provide your clients with monthly maintenance tips as well as refer invite-only vendors in your market.
$4.19/unit; $299 setup. ReminderMedia provides high quality media content to share with your sphere. Their flagship product is American Lifestyle magazine, either digital or print, that prominently features you and your information. Their content can also be easily repurposed for social media, and includes email campaigns with local events.
These tactics will help you engage past customers and keep them as active and engaged referral sources!
You should expect a 10% conversion rate. So you should be doing 10 deals a year for every 100 contacts in your database. A mere 300 people can earn you 30 or more deals and keep your real estate business humming year-round.
In addition to past clients, explore other lead generation strategies to help diversify your lead generation.